Margaret Boden has visited the Cook Islands once a year, for 24 years, since she first fell in love with the beauty of Rarotonga and the Cook Islands culture in 1993.
However, on August 17, Boden finally had to bid adieu to her favourite lunch spots, her beloved library and her close friends on the island.
“Unfortunately due to my age and health, and my inability to get travel insurance after the age of 80, I will not be able to visit the Cook Islands again,” she said.
Asked what it was about the Cook Islands that had stolen Boden’s heart, she couldn’t pinpoint just one thing.
“I mean it is just such a beautiful place: The people are very lovely, the dancing and culture is amazing, but on top of that it is also a very interesting and complex place.
“You’ve got the Polynesian culture, the western parliamentary democracy, it’s got western capitalism, and then there is the church, and they don’t stay within their individual realms,” Boden said.
The research professor of cognitive science at the University of Sussex in England said she spent her final visit reminiscing on some of her fondest and warmest memories of her time in the Cook Islands.
“I will always treasure the many experiences I have had here, especially the friends who opened up their hearts and homes to me.”
Reflecting on all the time she has spent in the Cook Islands, Boden said she owed many of her warmest memories to the people she shared them with.
“Over my many years I have made some wonderful friends, including the late Tinomana Ruta Ariki, the late Te Tika Mataiapo Dorice Reid, Lorna Walters, Helen Henry, the late Nima McBride, Sue Carruthers, Joan and David Gragg, Julie Bateman, Puretu and the late Manoa Heather and family, the Crocombe family and Jean Mason and all the staff at the Cook Islands Library and Museum Society.”
Boden said she had been privy to some extra special events and meetings.
“I was very close to Te Tika Matiapo Dorice Reid, and when she was president of the Koutu Nui she invited me to go with them to their annual meeting twice - once on Atiu and once on Mauke. It was an amazing experience.
“I was with the group all the time; obviously I couldn’t understand most of it because it was all in Maori but it was a fantastic experience.
“At one point I was also lucky enough to spend a week with Tinomana Ruta Ariki in her palace, where she also took me to all of the House of Ariki meetings.
“I know now how very rare and privileged these experiences were.”.
Boden first decided to visit Rarotonga after meeting the late Professor Ron Crocombe at a conference in Fiji. Crocombe invited her to visit, and she did.
“I loved it so much I returned to Rarotonga every year since.
“Each time I returned, I’d stay for an average of six weeks. There was no point in coming all this way for any less,” she added.
Boden said she spent hours on each visit snorkelling and exploring the crystal blue lagoon, though as age took over she found herself spending more and more time in the library, where she would read all the Cook Islands News papers from the year before.
“I have probably read more CINews papers than most of your reporters,” she joked.
Boden has treasured her time in the Cook Islands so much that she was able to convince many family and friends to visit the Cook Islands, and she says they fell in love with the beauty just as she had in 1993.
“Comparing then to now, I think the Cook Islands has changed dramatically in the 24 years I have been visiting.
“When I first came here, there were very few places you could eat, very few cars on the road and now a third of the coast line has been built on, all in the past decade.
“And I do worry a little that if people aren’t careful, that the Cook Islands may just kill the goose that lays the golden eggs, so to speak,” Boden said.
The Brighton resident said that despite the many changes, her love for the Cook Islands has never diminished, and she has always regarded Rarotonga as her “home away from home”.
Boden spent some of her last visit soaking her toes in the clear waters of the lagoon, time smelling the scent of the old, forgotten books at the Cook Islands library and saying goodbye to friends she will never see again.
“It has been a very bittersweet last visit. I have amazing memories that I will treasure forever.
“I’m taking pieces and memories of the Cook Islands home, so I may hold a little slice of paradise close to my heart.
“The country has and always will be a significant part of my life and I shall miss it dreadfully,” a teary-eyed Boden said.